Computing Ruth in finals

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Ruth Tippell, a part-time Computing Lecturer at Bedford College has reached the finals of the Bedfordshire on Sunday Employee of the Year awards. She will be joining others at a ceremony at Bedford Corn Exchange on November 17th for the announcement of the overall winner.

Ruth has dedicated the past 17 years to helping her students achieve their full potential, whatever personal challenges they face.  Outside of her teaching hours, Ruth has developed a pioneering peer mentoring programme which has resulted in some outstanding outcomes and, during the first two years, saw student progression rates increase from 31% to 89%.  Ruth’s initiative has not only been recognised within the Computing Department, but also across the College.  Even externally, Bedford Borough Council has acknowledged Ruth’s peer mentoring programme as a best practice approach.

“Ruth continually goes above and beyond her role as a part-time Computing Lecturer.”  Paula Hobday, Head of the Computing Department said. “She spends a lot of time and energy on encouraging her own students, and those in the rest of the Department, to reach their full potential.  Not only does Ruth do this by motivating and encouraging students to push themselves and achieve higher grades but also by providing them with practical support such as the peer mentoring programme that Ruth conceived and developed and which has resulted in increased success rates and progression.”

Ruth started working at Bedford College in 1999 originally as part of the Business and IT Employer Training division.  She then moved to the Computing Department and turned her teaching talents to the Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 courses.  In recent years Ruth has moved to teaching higher education (HE) courses and she is currently studying for a Master’s in Education.

One of the most successful initiatives that Ruth has pioneered during her time in the Computing Department is the peer mentoring programme.  Across the six years that the scheme has been running 99 students have been helped by peer mentors.  Of these, 80 students (81%) have achieved success and 26% have achieved merits or distinctions.

Ruth developed the programme after speaking to students who were on the verge of giving up their course.  She realised how important it was for these learners, who were having difficulties with the transition from school to college or between different college levels, to have support from other students who had faced and overcome similar challenges.  Ruth believed that by giving students a positive role model, someone of a similar age and background who they could identify with, rather than a member of staff, would be the key to changing attitudes, engagement and academic results.

After the first pilot of the programme in 2009/10 it was clear that there were immediate benefits as student progression had risen from 31% in 2008/09 to 43% in 2009/10. The following year in 2010/11 it rocketed to 89%.  “My mentor was very good.” one mentee said.  “It felt like he really cared about me doing well.  I am on target to complete this course and I know having my mentor there plays a very strong part in this.”

There were also benefits for the mentors taking part in the programme who undertook a six week, certificated training course. William Keel who qualified as a mentor felt he learnt a lot. “Being a mentor has been a great experience.  Not only does it make you feel good about yourself because you’re helping a fellow student but I’ve found that it actually helps me reinforce my own learning.”

In fact the peer mentoring scheme has been so successful that Bedford Borough Council invited Ruth to attend a meeting to discuss the feasibility of setting up a similar mentoring scheme to support young people identified through Early Help Assessments.

Ruth has also invited successful alumni to come back to the College and provide inspiring and motivational presentations to current students.  One example is alumnus Henry Uko.  Ruth had taught Henry for several years and helped him to overcome many personal difficulties and go on to achieve great success – gaining distinctions in all areas of his computing course. With Ruth’s encouragement he then progressed on to university and, when he graduated, he set up his own successful business.  

Ruth is passionate about pushing her learners to achieve their very best in a national context. In April this year Ruth entered her Level 3 students to a national competition to redesign the 157 Group’s website.  To make this experience even more realistic and beneficial for as many students as possible, Ruth took it upon herself to organise a separate judging stage to the competition process.  Ruth set up a showcase event within Bedford College where members of the Executive team and other College staff voted for the best three designs.  This enabled every student to participate in the process and gave them experience of presenting their concepts to a judging panel. 

The shortlisted designs were then entered into the national competition along with 20 other designs from across the country.  Only five website designs were shortlisted and two of these were from Bedford College. The 157 Group website final involved a Dragons’ Den style panel at Google’s Head Office in London. Again, Ruth spent time and effort outside of her teaching hours to coach her students in interview and presentation techniques.  Ruth’s extra efforts paid off with one of the Bedford College groups winning the competition.

The Dragons provided positive comments about the winning team’s website.  “This website has been redeveloped to a high standard; demonstrating ease of use, with some impressive ideas for the effective maintenance of the full website”. Ruth’s students won a cutting-edge HP Sprout for the Computing Department to use, (a device that can scan in an object and make it 3D), and each of the winning students also won an HP Chrome book and printer. 

Ian Pryce CBE, Principal and CEO of Bedford College was very impressed.  “This was an outstanding moment for the computing team and for Bedford College.  It is proof that we are training young people to the highest standards in post-16 education.”


Ruth with the website winners

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